HC Deb 02 May 1990 vol 171 cc1177-81

Amendment made: No. 315, in line 13, after 'clean', insert 'to make provision conferring powers in relation to trolleys abandoned on land in the open air,'.—[Mr. Trippier.]

Order for Third Reading read.—[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified].

11.25 pm
Mr. Trippier

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

When my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment opened the Second Reading debate, he said that he hoped that we would have an instructive time in Committee. I can honestly say that we did. It is a matter of some satisfaction to me and my right hon. and hon. Friends that the Opposition parties have welcomed virtually every aspect of the Bill. It is in line with the widespread support that it has received outside the House. There is no dispute that it delivers a series of major measures to further the protection of our environment, and its enhancement. We welcome the constructive approach that has sprung from that.

My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State happily conceded that the Bill does not do all things to all environmental problems. It never could, and we all understand why. It is fantasy to suggest that we can legislate away problems such as the greenhouse effect overnight.

Let me remind the House of some of what the Bill accomplishes. It provides a far-reaching system of controlling major industrial pollution. Integrated pollution control puts this country in the forefront of pollution control in Europe. It completely overhauls and considerably toughens our national system of waste disposal and gives an important boost to recycling at the same time. It introduces radical measures for tackling what for many people is one of the most serious environmental issues—the litter that disfigures our towns and cities.

It provides brand new controls to deal with the environmental effects of genetically modified organisms. It lays the foundations for greatly improved delivery of nature and countryside conservation at all levels. That has always been the one contentious part of the Bill. We remain convinced that reform of the Nature Conservancy Council is required and that our proposals will be wholly beneficial to conservation. That view is strengthened by Lord Carver's report. I promise the House that our response to that report will be positive and sympathetic.

On top of all that, the Bill provides for higher penalties and tougher enforcement of them for polluters across the board. It strengthens the role and powers of local authorities in dealing with local environmental issues. It provides for greatly improved public access to environmental information and includes a battery of further environmental measures, from powers to deal with imports of waste to further controls over dumping at sea.

The Bill is in the best shape to be sent on its way to the other place. It marks a milestone on the path to a better environment in Britain, and I commend it to the House.

11.28 pm
Mrs. Ann Taylor

I agree with the Minister that we had a constructive time in Committee. We spent a good number of hours debating the Bill in Committee and on Report during the past few days. Many amendments have been tabled. Many were tabled by Conservative Members and in particular by the Government. That says something about the way in which the Bill was originally drafted.

We welcome the fact the Government have for once taken on board some of the suggestions that we have made in the spirit of constructive opposition. It is a somewhat unusual experience that Ministers occasionally accept Opposition amendments. Indeed, even this evening amendments have been proposed by the Government which were the result of promises made to us in Committee in recognition of the validity of the points that we have made. That is somewhat unusual for the Government, and we welcome it.

Most Committee members and most hon. Members who have taken an interest tonight feel that they have been able to make a minor, but possibly significant, contribution to the Bill. A significant contribution was made by the Government's acceptance of the need for a register of contaminated land. I am sure that that is particularly welcome to my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Pike) whose Select Committee has done a great deal of work on that matter.

There are still glaring gaps in the Bill. The Minister said that environmental problems could not be solved overnight, but in Committee we were disappointed that the Government did not accept some of our suggestions for a more integrated policy between the Department of the Environment and the Department of Energy and between the Department and the Department of Transport. We understand the internal difficulties that exist and, as a result, we look forward with keen interest to the White Paper that will follow the Bill to see who will win and what Department will win.

We still have some reservations about the Bill. We shall watch carefully to see what happens to part VII and the amendments that may be forced on the Government in another place to make more sense of their proposals. We still have many reservations about the resource implications of the Bill. Promises have been given about resources for Her Majesty's inspectorate of pollution, but local authorities have been given a wide range of extra responsibilities and duties without adequate back-up, which will cause problems in the future.

Obviously we shall not vote against Third Reading, just as we did not vote against Second Reading. Although we are pleased that there has been some progress and some constructive amendments have been accepted, we still think that the Government have wasted a valuable opportunity and could have achieved far more.

The Bill has a grand title and the Government had the chance to match the image promoted by that title with some amendments. We welcome the Bill so far as it goes, but we hope that it will be significantly strengthened in another place. If that happens, we shall give the Bill all the support we can during its remaining stages.

11.32 pm
Mr. Roger Gale (Thanet, North)

I congratulate my hon. Friends on a tour de force, an enormous piece of work. I have studied their deliberations with great interest and their work has been magnificent. I am particularly pleased to see, at last, a measure to control straw and stubble burning on the statute book, something for which I have fought for many years. However, a small but pertinent matter has not been attended to in the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware that I tabled some amendments at a late hour yesterday, which appear on the Order Paper as starred amendments—understandably, in those circumstances, they were not called. I tabled those amendments late because the national chairman and committee of the Bird Scarers Anti-Nuisance Group yesterday met with officials of the Department of the Environment and I felt that it would have been discourteous to have tabled those amendments prior to that meeting.

The control of noise in the countryside is a matter of great concern to many people. Audible bird scaring has been the subject of discussion by the Department for more than two years. It is a source of sadness to me that the same arguments have been rehearsed again and again. The Department has now produced two draft codes of practice for the use of audible bird scarers, but the measures that we have sought for more than two years are still not included in those drafts.

The amendments I tabled have not been discussed, but there will be an opportunity to address that small but important matter in another place. I hope that the Miinster will study the amendments to see if he can assist the other place to ensure that the matter receives the attention that many people believe it deserves.

11.34 pm
Mr. Pike

I echo the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mrs. Taylor) in opening the Third Reading debate for the Opposition. I welcome her comments about contaminated land and about the direction in which the Government have moved on that issue.

In the five years that I have served on the Select Committee on the Environment, I have seen the tremendous role served by Select Committees, conducted in a non-political way, in spurring and encouraging the Government to move on many issues. The Select Committee on the Environment has always tried to reach consensus decisions without dividing which has meant give and take on both sides. The Government have responded positively on many issues to recommendations from the Committee, some of which are covered by the Bill.

I agree with many of the Minister's comments and believe that the Bill has been conducted well throughout. I has been encouraging that the Government have been prepared to listen to debate and respond to positive contributions from wherever they came in Committee. The Minister highlighted many issues covered by the Bill. He did not cover them all, but I make no criticism because it was impossible for him to do so in the time allowed.

However, although many issues in the Bill were steps in the right direction, we now need to take a stride to ensure not only that when the Bill has passed through the other House and becomes an Act its provisions are enforced, but to build on that base. Other issues are not covered by the Bill. We look forward to the Government coming forward with their White Paper, and further legislation. The next major Bill on environmental protection and enhancement may be introduced by a Labour Government who will tackle the problem positively.

These issues are of worldwide signficance and are growing in importance in the public's eyes. It is right for Parliament to address the problems positively and it is important for us to play a major role in dealing with them on a worldwide basis because we must ensure that we protect the earth, not only for the people living on it now, but for future generations.

11.37 pm
Mr. Simon Hughes

There is no doubt that this is a wide-ranging and welcome Bill. It ranges from the widely understood plague of litter to the sophisticated scientific study of genetically modified organisms. There are no two more extreme poles of environmental concern. I willingly concede that it marks the Government's conversion to green interests, which is welcome. I understand that that has been strongly advocated by the Ministers in charge of the Bill, which is also welcome.

There is still some doubt about whether we have a Government with a green philosophy. We are a long way from seeing that. Perhaps the proper description is that we have a Government who are green in parts, but not yet right through. Environmental improvement in the Government is welcome, but an environmentally sound Government is yet some way removed.

The best symbol that I could find, having followed, albeit remotely, the processes of the Committee and the questions and answers that were subsequently tabled, is the exchange that has taken place several times, most recently the other day, about the Government's use of recycled paper in the Department of the Environment. That is slightly inaccurate. The Government use paper produced from offcuts in timber yards, but not paper recycled from paper used before. They have gone some way down the road, but have not yet become truly environmentalist. I hope that we shall continue much further and faster than in the past. In the 1970s we legislated against pollution. Much of that legislation was never backed up by secondary legislation. At the beginning of the 1990s, I hope that we shall have a significant Bill on the statute book. But the real proof of whether the Government are green will come when environmental matters become as dominant in their thinking as Treasury matters. I await that day with interest.

11.40 pm
Mr. Andrew F. Bennett

I welcome a great deal in the legislation, and I enjoyed the Committee and Report stages of the Bill.

Throughout our debates there has been an undercurrent, created by two missing ingredients. First, we needed a clear statement from the Government that they would make available the necessary resources. Secondly, we do not know what the White Paper will contain. That leaves me with the worry that, although a large number of new duties have rightly been placed on local authorities, the Government have not given them the proper resources to carry out their work. Through the poll tax, the Government are pressurising local authorities to spend less, and it is impossible for them to carry out their duties under the Bill without incurring extra expenditure. Most local authorities are not wasting money on other areas from which resources could be transferred.

It is appalling that the Minister announced on Monday that the White Paper was being prepared to present to the Tory party conference at the beginning of October. That is a misuse of public money, and it is bad for the protection of the environment. We were first promised the White Paper for the summer—

Mr. Trippier

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman does not want to mislead the House. I said that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State promised the Conservative party conference in Blackpool last year that a White Paper would be published before the next conference.

Mr. Bennett

The Minister said on Monday that the White Paper would be presented for the Conservative party conference—

Mr. Trippier

Before then.

Mr. Bennett

If it comes in the summer, I will take back everything I have said, but I suspect that the date will be closer to October. By then it will be too late to include its contents in the legislative programme.

So much has been left out of the Bill, just because we are told to wait for the White Paper. If the White Paper comes out in the summer and the legislation is included in the next Session of Parliament, well and good. But I suspect that it will not appear until the party conference. Then there will he no legislation next year, and the White Paper will merely become a contribution to the Tory party manifesto.

That is appalling, because it means using Government resources to prepare and carry out policy reviews for the Tory party—and because it means delaying action on these issues. We need the White Paper in June or July and legislation in October so that we can start to protect the environment as soon as possible.

As far as the legislation goes, I welcome it, but I still have the two major reservations that I have described.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

Back to